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The Pastoral Office, Divorce and Remarriage

The Pastoral Office, Divorce and Remarriage

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Published by Bror Erickson
A paper examining the topic of divorce and the pastoral office, the interpretation of scripture used to disqualify them from office and why that interpretation is wrong.
A paper examining the topic of divorce and the pastoral office, the interpretation of scripture used to disqualify them from office and why that interpretation is wrong.

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Published by: Bror Erickson on Jul 06, 2013
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11/09/2013

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The Pastoral Office, Divorce and RemarriageBy Bror Erickson
I was asked to write this paper, I suppose, because as a divorced pastor I‟ve had a lot of 
occasion to think on the dilemma of being both a pastor and having been divorced. To thechagrin of many, I have even dared to marry again and yet stay in the office.There is, in fact, today a dilemma concerning all this. For one, our church is againstdivorce. God hates divorce, and Christ spoke out against it in ways that leave no doubt for theChristian as to what his or her attitude should be concerning divorce in general. You will not findme arguing in favor of divorce.Jesus allows it in the case of adultery; but even in those cases, I am one that will counselfor reconciliation if at all possible. But as Paul soothes the consciences of many in his day and
ours by saying “let the unbeliever go,” thereby allowing for divorce in the case of malicious
abandonment, so undoubtedly the pastors in this room have watched with disappointment ascouples have split and have tirelessly sought to comfort, as the unbelievers go, with theforgiveness of sins. Perhaps you have also reprimanded with the law, holding out forgiveness for those who have left, all the time mourning this sinful world in which such things happen to thosewe love.I have no problem
with our church body‟s position on divorce. It is not a light thing to be
sneezed at. Though, I do have a small problem with some other views centering around howdivorce should be handled among the clergy. This is the dilemma we face today. Where clergyand divorce are concerned, many in our church body still hold views I myself once held
 — 
viewsthat say divorce unqualifiedly disqualifies a man for the pastoral office, and remarriage evenmore so. I have had to forgive myself for holding them, and I ask others to forgive me as Iforgive others for holding them.Many of us were raised with these views that are typified by Martin Scharlemann in his1980 paper,
“The Pastoral Office, Divorce, Remarriage, and Moral Deviation,”
1
a paper he presented to the Council of Presidents in February of that year, which was later published in CJin July of that year. I was four that year, but I figure these views had, by that time, been longentrenched in the synod.I figure that, because Scharlemann does little more than present them and take it for granted that everyone will agree with him. He hardly defends the views, and the rational he givesfor keeping them typifies a theology of glory. He quotes 1 Timothy 3, as it reads in almost everyEnglish translation, without once referencing the Greek or wrestling with what it might mean inthat society and how it should then be applied in our society. He comes to conclusions vastlydifferent than those of the late Bo Giertz, who actually does look at what the Greek says and
meant in Paul‟s day and in an evangelical Lutheran way addresses what that might mean today.
 Like I said, I once held these same views. I have come to understand that there was not alittle bit of self-righteousness involved, and perhaps, even some fear. There is ample reason for a
man to fear divorce, but thinking about God‟s word rationally and allowing a divorced man to
stay in office is hardly going to spread divorce like gangrene through our ranks, not anymore
than it already has. Yet for all the shortcomings of Scharlemann‟s paper, the views he presented
1
Scharlemann, Martin, “
The pastoral Office and Divorce, Remarriage, Moral Deviation
” (Concordia Journal, St.
Louis, July 1980)pg. 141-150
 
have remained largely unchallenged in our ranks, even by those such as I, who have stayed in theoffice despite divorce.As I was struggling with the question of whether I should stay or go, I found few whocould help rationalize staying in the office without recourse to merely pragmatic arguments. Iknow of not a few who think they are flouting these passages concerning divorce, and especiallythose verses in 1 Timothy and Titus that deal with the qualifications for being a pastor. Perhapssome of the most helpful advice I received was that I had to apply law and gospel to myself, justas I do to my sheep. That was nice. The more I have thought on that advice over the years, themore wisdom I see in it. Really, more pastors ought to do the same.But this advice hardly convinced me that I had a right to stay in the office. That there wasforgiveness for anything I might have done to contribute to the breakdown of my marriage was
something I understood. The question was: “Do I and others like me still qualify for the office?”
That is a big question, and one that needs to be answered, and the only way to do it will be totake a scalpel to the law and dissect it like a lawyer so as to properly divide the word of truth.So it is necessary to look at First Timothy 3 in the English, with perhaps a perusal of Titus also, in order to understand why it is that we have come to where we are. But it will also benecessary to look at it in the Greek to understand where we have gone wrong.
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a
noble task. [2] Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, [3] not a drunkard,not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. [4] He must manage hisown household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, [5] for if someonedoes not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? [6]He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall intothe condemnation of the devil. [7] Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, sothat he may not
fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Tim. 3:1
-7 (ESV)
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and
appoint elders in every town as I directed you
 — 
[6] if anyone is above reproach, thehusband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. [7] For an overseer, as God's steward, must be abovereproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedyfor gain, [8] but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, anddisciplined. [9] He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may beable to give instruct
ion in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
(Titus 1:5-9 (ESV)
These two passages have much in common. Both speak to the character of the man whois to hold this office. Over the years elder has come to mean something quite different in thechurch, and what Paul called an elder, we call a pastor. Whenever I find myself getting a littletoo prideful, I read these admonitions and let them cut me down to size. There is a lot there, and
I‟m left wondering if anyone qualifies for the o
ffice under these qualifications. I have yet to see a pastor, or even hear of a pastor, being defrocked because his daughter ended up pregnant out of wedlock, or his son ended up in jail. And I doubt that is due to the fact that we all manage our households so well that this never happens.Truth be told, PKs of my generation and many generations previous had reputations touphold. I know I did my best. Songs have been written concerning this phenomenon that makefathers just a bit leery of their daughters dating such boys. We could talk about quick tempersand pastors' conventions, drunkenness and pastors' conferences. Violence? Greedy for Gain?
 
Each of these qualifications could be a paper of its own
 — 
 
a book no less. I won‟t even touch the
aspect of being able to teach and holding to sound doctrine. All this is to say that it seems a
wonder that the only phrase anyone seems to pay attention to is “husband of one wife”; and if 
they were really qualified to teach or held to sound doctrine, few would actually think that iswhat it says or even means in the Greek.
This is actually quite a problem. The Greek just doesn‟t say that. Given what it says, thetranslation “husband of one wife” makes some sense, but quite a bit is lost in that translation.
What it actually says is
μιας
 
γσναικος
 
ανδρα
, or 
μιας
 
γσναικος
 
ανδρες
, or 
μιας
 
γσναικος
 
ανηρ
, all
of which, in their roughest state of translation, translates as “one woman man.” The ESV evengives “a man of one woman” as an alternate reading. It is easy to see
how this quickly gets
turned into “husband of one wife.”
 Even so, this is unsatisfactory for many reasons. The most obvious is the fact, apparent to
any pastor having been in the office for any amount of time, being “the husband of one wife”
does not necessitate being a man of one woman. This situation is not new to our day. A cursoryreading of the Old and New Testaments makes it abundantly clear that the temptation for multiple sex partners has been around for a while. Many men manage to stay married to onewoman while having mistresses and multiple extramarital trysts along the way.
However, the text has a long history of being translated “husband of one wife,” and has
more or less been interpreted to mean that through the years. Yet, even in this translation, it hasnot always been considered that digamy was the issue being addressed, as it is thought today and
taken for granted by Scharlemann in his paper. “Digamy” is an old word used to describe the
issue of remarriage after the lawful termination of a first marriage, whether because of death or divorce. A peculiar case for this interpretation is made in
The Expositors Greek Testament, Vol.
4
. Commenting on
μιας
 
γσναικος
 
ανδρα
in the third chapter of Timothy, Newport maintains:
μιας
 
γσναικος
 
ανδρα
, of course does not mean that the episcopus must be, or have been,married. What is here forbidden is digamy under any circumstances. This view issupported (a) by the general drift of the qualities required here in a bishop; self control or temperance, in his use of food and drink, possessions, gifts, temper; (b) by thecorresponding requirement in a church widow v. 9
ενος
 
ανδρος
 
γσνη
, and (c) by the practice of the early church
2
 
However, Newport is forced to undermine point c in his very next paragraph concedingthat, whatever the practice of the early church was, it was not based on their understanding of theverse in question. The early commentators on this passage thought it was dealing with somethingfar different than digamy. He continues:
On the other hand, it must be conceded that the patristic commentators on the passage(with the partial exception of Chrysostom)
 — 
Theodore Mops. Theodoret, Theophylact,Oecumenius, Jerome
 — 
suppose that it is bigamy or polygamy that is here forbidden.
3
 
2
White, Newport, Edited by w. Robertson Nicoll, “
The Expositior’s Greek Testament Vol IV 
” (New York, Hodder 
and Stoughton, 1912) Pgs 111-12
3
IBid

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